D.C. United gets a breakthrough in quest for new stadium

Wednesday July 24th, 2013

D.C. United's new stadium would be located south of Nationals Park and in view of the Capitol.
Courtesy of D.C. United

D.C. United's lengthy and often-maddening search for its own soccer-specific stadium appears to be nearing an end, according to multiple reports from the nation's capital.

Both The Washington Post and the local NBC affiliate, WRC, reported Wednesday evening that D.C. mayor Vincent Gray will unveil a preliminary deal between the MLS club and the city for a new stadium on Buzzard Point, which is located on a peninsula a few blocks south of Nationals Park. Gray is expected to make the announcement Thursday.

United has played at RFK Stadium, which opened in 1961, since entering MLS in 1996.

The proposed new arena will seat 20,000-25,000 fans and cost approximately $150 million to build. The land and infrastructure provided by the city reportedly is worth an additional $150 million. D.C. United, in which Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir has held a majority stake since last year, reportedly will pay for construction costs. The city will furnish the real estate after executing a swap with a local developer.

United will be granted a 25- to 35-year lease and would have the option to invest in further development on the site, the Post reported. The stadium could be ready by 2016.

Speaking about Thohir and his partner, attorney Jason Levien, D.C. city administrator Allen Lew said, "It's amazing how quickly they have been able to get this done," according to the Post.

It isn't quite done yet, however. The D.C. City Council must approve the package and the Post predicted that "convincing District residents and lawmakers to back the deal is likely to open old wounds over the divisive fight to build Nationals Park, which the District paid for entirely."'

Additional land swap arrangements likely will be required to finance the city's portion of the project thanks to statutory limits on borrowing, the Post said, calling it a process "that could lead to political and logistical landmines."

Nevertheless, this is as close as United has come to finding a home. There have been aborted attempts before, most notably when a plan to build across the Anacostia River at Poplar Point failed in 2007. Two years later, a tentative deal with suburban Prince George's County in Maryland fell through. Eventually, the club began to entertain overtures from Baltimore as it hemorrhaged money at RFK. United continued to say publicly it preferred to remain in the city, but the club's harsh financial reality meant other options would be in play until shovels hit the ground.

Speaking to the Post in April, Levien said, "we feel as though we are moving in the right direction [with D.C.] and the commitment is there on the part of the city's leadership to bring this to resolution. There is a very good communication flow and a real willingness to work together in a collaborative way to make something happen."

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